Posted on 25 January 2010.
Alright, ladies, it is time for the annual roundball game in ch’ville with our be-hated rivals, the wahoos. And I can’t help but think that being a uva fan right now is very similar to how many Americans felt exactly one year when President Obama took office. Both the Head Basketball Coach, Obama-stunt-double Dave Leitao, and Head Football Coach, Al Groh, have had their “terms end” in the last year with some very tough approval ratings. In comes the new regime, full of hope and promise.
So let me slip on some boat shoes, grab a diagonal tie, sip some white zin, nibble on some brie, and live the life of a wahoo sports fan for a few minutes…
State of the university:
I’m not sure who you would say was in a worse relative position – America a year ago or uva sports as of the time Groh was fired (I know what my vote would be – uva sports). The cavs in over 50 years as a part of the ACC have never won an outright ACC football title. They have tied for it twice in 1989 and 1995, but never won it outright. The Hokies have three, plus a division title, in six years in the league and the league has four more teams than it did until fsu took over the conference in 1992. Heck, the league only had nine teams until 2004 and uva still couldn’t win it outright.
Their newly-former coach, Al Groh needs no introduction. Groh won ACC Coach of the Year (twice!) in 2002 and 2007. But he was just 59-53 in nine seasons at uva and just 36-36 in conference play, never winning a division or ACC title. uva missed making a bowl his last two seasons. Of course, the biggest dagger for him was his 1-8 record against the Hokies and watching VT win three outright ACC titles and another division title in six years. And to think he is now georgia tech’s Defensive Coordinator! Wow, who’d have thought he’d be our savior in terms of ruining the jackets.
In basketball, it isn’t that much better. The hoos have just one ACC Basketball Tournament title, in 1976, but have won or shared the regular season title five times, the last in 2006-07. They have 16 NCAA Tournament appearances (VT has eight) and two Final Four trips in ’81 and ’84. You’d definitely say this was the stronger of those two sports. But with just two NCAA Tournament appearances since 1997, the program has definitely been in a decline.
Recently fired Dave Leitao was the 2006-07 ACC Coach of the Year and led the hoos to their only NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. But Leitao finished just 63-60 in four years at the helm and was a miserable 9-23 in ACC play. He also was unable to break uva’s glass ceiling – the hoos have not made it past the ACC Quarterfinals in 14 years! They have been eliminated in the ACC First Round or Quarterfinals every year since 1995 (Tech’s made the semi-finals twice).
I’ve often thought to myself as I’m walking out of Lane or Scott Stadium after yet another Hokie win over the hoos, “It really cannot get any better than this. uva sports (the ones that really matter) are as low as they can possibly be, and Hokie sports are doing fantastic.” The scary thing is, history tells us this will all change at some point. At some point uva may be #1 in the nation in football again as they were back in 1990. Of course, that lead to uva losing four straight to finish the season and spawned my favorite t-shirt of all time: “uva football: #1 in the country [crossed out], the ACC [crossed out], Virginia [crossed out], charlottesville”. At some point uva basketball may make another Final Four, or even make the semi-finals of the ACC Tournament! Gasp! And who knows if we can continue to be the dominant football program in the ACC after Beamer, or stay around .500 in basketball every year.
So Hokies really need to enjoy these glory days. Not only is VT riding the gravy train on biscuit wheels, but uva is about as irrelevant in both sports as you can be. I guarantee they bring out their national champion soccer team during the basketball game this Thursday and I guarantee I will stand up and yell, “Nobody cares! You’d trade that title in a minute to have our football program!” (the real football, not futbol – sorry Davey)
All this brings us to…
Hope and Change!
“Yes we can,” the hoos shout! They believe their new basketball coach, Tony Bennett, and new football coach, Mike London, can revive their programs from obscurity back to those glory days when they were in the “Others Receiving Votes” category! They can brag once again to Hokie fans about their athletic teams, and recapture the Commonwealth Cup instead of talking about the Directors’ Cup (formerly the Sears Cup that no one really cares about).
But can they? If Obama’s first year is any indication, it won’t be easy. The unemployment rate has risen from 7% to over 10%. The US still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq as of November 2009 and had sent close to 50,000 to Afghanistan. He still hadn’t passed even an initial health care reform bill. But Politifact.com did a study and found that of his 502 campaign promises, more than half were “still in the works” and 91 had been fulfilled. That breaks down to about a 20% winning percentage after one year in terms of fulfillment, or 50% in terms of being in progress. Using the latter, that means going 8-8 in conference in basketball or 4-4 in football.
The basketball team, after struggling out of conference, did win their first three ACC games to sit alone in first. This prompted one of my uva buddies to text me talking trash. I pointed out to him this was the first time he had texted me to talk trash about uva sports since the last Winter Olympics. uva promptly nearly lost to a crappy unc-wilmington team at home, and they got smoked at wake forest. So the cavs certainly aren’t back yet in basketball, but they will surely surpass Leitao’s 4-12 mark of last year. Things seem to be looking up, at least a tad.
In football, their current situation reminds me of our old mountain home. In the cupboards up there, we had a 15 year old can of Dinty Moore beef stew. For some reason, it never got thrown out. And the running joke was if we ever got snowed in, we’d have to eat it. Well, uva’s football talent right now is about as well stocked as our old cupboard. They have nothing, other than maybe a lot of Dinty Moore beef stew. And they have a fairly weak recruiting class coming in next year. As bad as this season was for uva football, it could be worse next year. But obviously the hoos realize it will take a while for London, who won a I-AA title at richmond, time to turn things around. And the scary thing for Hokies is if he can turn things around in terms of recruiting, namely in Virginia, it will have an adverse effect on Tech. But pardon me if I’m not worried yet. Even Groh had a dominant year in the state in recruiting his first full year and we saw what that led to.
After a few moments as a hoo fan, I think I’ll keep my burnt orange and Chicago maroon clothing all the same. It cannot possibly get any worse for the hoos, but it will also be a long road to prominence, or even meaningfullness, for them. But if the Hokies win Thursday night in ch’ville for just the second time since 1968, I’ll think to myself, “This really is the greatest era to be a Hokie: we’re on top and firmly sitting on their faces.” Now I have to go hit the shower and wash all this wahoo stink off me.